• Alex Nitkin
    OCT 07, 2021

    Park District is falling out of favor with Chicagoans, new Chicago Index poll finds

    Citywide public approval for the Chicago Park District fell by 13 percentage points between June and September, the latest Chicago Index survey found.

    The Chicago Park District, typically one of the city’s most popular agencies, is losing favor with city residents as it becomes consumed with a widening sexual harassment scandal and faces the Chicago Bears’ departure from Soldier Field, a new Chicago Index poll suggests. The poll also shows flagging approval for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and stubbornly low marks for Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

    The third iteration of the Chicago Index poll, a collaboration between The Daily LineCrain’s and the Colorado-based public sector polling firm Polco, polled 784 Chicagoans and 50 Cook County suburbanites between Sept. 7 and Sept. 23. Its results were weighted by race, age, sex, geographic location and whether each respondent rents or owns their home, resulting in a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. 

    Full results and crosstabs for the poll are available online.

    A similar poll conducted in June found 81 percent support among city residents for the Chicago Park District, matching its score from March and landing it near the fire department and library system among the city’s most popular public institutions. 

    Related: CPS, police department drag down Lightfoot’s approval as Pritzker remains popular in Chicago, Chicago Index poll finds 

    But the park district’s approval dropped to 68 percent in the poll conducted last month. It was 66 percent among women and 65 percent among nonwhite respondents. 

    The district has been churning out a string of negative headlines since April, when WBEZ first reported that officials were investigating widespread sexual harassment and assault among lifeguards. The scandal deepened in August, when the district abruptly fired a lead investigator, and again in September, when the park district inspector general resigned amid reports about her own past. 

    The park district has absorbed public flak in the intervening months over other issues, like its contract with Amazon to install lockers in public parks and its temporary removal of a life ring from a beach in Rogers Park.  

    And the district has suffered a new embarrassment in recent weeks as the Chicago Bears plow ahead with plans to relocate to Arlington Heights. Emails unearthed by WBEZ exposed a frosty relationship between the NFL team and the park district over the pace of repairs to Soldier Field.  

    Trends among other agencies and departments held mostly consistent from Chicago Index findings earlier in the year: Chicago Public Schools remains saddled with 26 percent approval among city residents, and favorability for the Department of Housing sank from 32 percent to 28 percent as respondents flag a lack of affordable housing in the city. 

    Respondents have also registered a slow but steady drop in support for the Chicago Police Department this year. Just 32 percent of city-dwelling respondents claimed satisfaction with the police department last month, down from 37 percent in the second-quarter survey and 41 percent at the beginning of the year. 

    Lightfoot continues to suffer from low marks among city residents, registering 21 percent approval in an echo of previous iterations of the survey. The Chicago City Council remained unpopular with city respondents, netting 24 percent approval, although 49 percent said they were satisfied with their own alderman. 

    Related: Lightfoot ‘not surprised’ she and City Council scored poorly on inaugural Chicago Index survey 

    Meanwhile, county leaders suffered a drop in approval between the June and September surveys. Preckwinkle sank from a 51 percent to a 41 percent job performance rating among countywide survey respondents. At the same time, just 34 percent of those polled said they had a positive view of their own county commissioner, down from 45 percent in the last survey. 

     Survey respondents who live in Chicago were overwhelming in their support for schools to take on pandemic-related safety measures, as about 85 percent favored requiring both students and faculty to wear masks in school. Additionally, 83 percent said school districts should require teachers to be vaccinated, and 75 percent — including 63 percent of those who have children in Chicago Public Schools — said they should require an option for students to attend class virtually. 

    However, the survey also found majority support for in-person learning, with 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools parents polled favoring a requirement for teachers to return to the classroom in person. 

    Nearly nine in 10 respondents described “improving the performance of Chicago Public Schools” as an “important” or “essential” city priority. Only “investing in city infrastructure” and “reducing political corruption” scored higher.

    Learn more about The Chicago Index here and connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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